Skip to main content


Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero if she will provide an update on the UK Government’s commitments in relation to COP28.

I am glad to come to the House to discuss this important subject today. The upcoming COP hosted by the United Arab Emirates is an important moment in the climate crisis. Amid record temperatures and emissions, the first comprehensive stocktake of progress against the Paris agreement at COP28 will show that the world is badly off-track. We have made significant progress through the Paris agreement, with temperature projections shifting from 4°C before Paris to between 2.4°C and 2.7°C after Glasgow through nationally determined contribution commitments, but we know that that is not enough.

In Glasgow, we cemented the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C as our north star. That has been carried forward by the UAE presidency. The latest science and the impacts we are seeing, even at 1.1°C, show us why. A top priority for the United Kingdom is to leave COP28 with a clear road map towards keeping 1.5°C in reach from the global stocktake. The UK heads to COP28 with a record at home and internationally that we can be proud of. The Prime Minister recently affirmed our commitment to net zero and set out our new approach to get there. At home, we have decarbonised faster than any other major economy—by 48% since 1990. Looking forward, our 2030 target requires the largest reduction in emissions of any major economy.

Two years on from Glasgow, the need to accelerate action is more urgent than ever. The world needs to decarbonise more than five times faster than we have done in the last two decades. At COP28, we want to see progress against five areas: ambitious new commitments and action, including a pathway to keep 1.5°C within reach from the global stocktake; scaling up clean energy through commitments to triple renewables, double energy efficiency and move beyond fossil fuels; progress on finance reform, delivering $100 billion for developing economies; building resilience to climate impacts, including by doubling adaptation finance and establishing a loss and damage fund; and, finally, progress on restoring nature. Action to deliver net zero is not just a matter of doing the right thing by avoiding harm; it is crucial to our security and prosperity here in the UK now and in the future.

The global net zero transition could be worth £1 trillion to UK businesses between 2021 and 2030. UK businesses are in the vanguard in recognising the opportunity. More than two thirds of FTSE 100 companies, and thousands of small businesses, have pledged to reduce their emissions in line with the 1.5°C goal under the Race to Zero campaign. More than half the signatories to that campaign are from the United Kingdom. Net zero is already an engine for growth and revitalisation of formerly deindustrialised areas in the United Kingdom. At COP28 we need to show progress in delivering the historic agreement that we landed in Glasgow, and we must use our UK expertise to scale green finance.

I thank the Minister for her response. COP28 will be the most consequential climate summit since COP21 in Paris, yet we are way off track. The UN’s recent emissions gap report warns that current pledges under the Paris agreement would see temperature rises of between 2.5°C and 2.9°C this century. Ministers are fond of saying that the UK has the most ambitious nationally determined contribution for 2030 of any major economy, yet the Minister will also be aware of the Climate Change Committee’s recent assessment that

“the UK is unlikely to meet its NDC”.

That is not least because the committee calculates that just 28% of the required emission reductions for 2030 are covered by credible Government plans. She will know that targets without plans are cheap. What concrete plans do the Government have to urgently close that gap? Does she agree that we must see an ambitious outcome from the global stocktake, with significantly strengthened 2030 NDCs and new economy-wide targets by 2025 that see the richest countries going further and faster?

Does the Minister share my outrage over reports that the UAE plans to use its role as COP28 president to secure oil and gas deals? What assessment has she made of the impact of that on trust in the negotiations? Will she explain why the UK is pushing for the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels, rather than of fossil fuels in their entirety? Does she recognise the view of the High Ambition Coalition, which says that we cannot use abatement technologies to “green-light” fossil fuel expansion? How will she ensure that any agreement that includes language on abatement has real teeth, delivers real cuts in fossil fuel production, and does not simply allow for the continuation of business as usual?

The Minister will know that a properly resourced and operational loss and damage finance fund must be a litmus test for success at COP28, but there are reports that the Government will be contributing to that fund from their existing climate finance pot. Does she agree that we cannot tackle ever-increasing challenges from an ever-depleting pot of money? What plans do the Government have for new and additional finance? What innovative sources of finance are they looking at? What assessment have they made of the impact of the UK’s reclassification of climate finance on climate vulnerable countries? If the Government are serious about leading by example, will they finally reverse the greenlighting of the obscene Rosebank oilfield?

I reiterate that the Government take this issue incredibly seriously, and there are two ways of demonstrating that: the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who usually deals with such issues, is at COP28 and ready for the conference; and we now have a distinct Department for this issue, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. We know that we are leaders in the field. I take this issue seriously, not just for the people of the United Kingdom, but for the planet as a whole. Thinking about my granddaughter, we really do have a commitment to ensuring that we are doing everything that we can.

I call Dr Thérèse Coffey. [Interruption.] Order. Ms Lucas, I have given you an urgent question. If you have a problem—

Please. The Minister will answer as she sees fit. I am sure that at the end you will want to raise a point of order. That is the time—you cannot have a second bite of the cherry. I went out of my way to ensure that this issue was covered, so please—I am sure other Members will ask questions, and it is up to the Minister how she answers them. I am not responsible for that.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this second opportunity for the House to discuss COP28. At the debate on 16 November, when the Government granted a full day’s debate, only three Back Benchers spoke—me, and the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). There was not a sign of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is now complaining about the responses to her questions. By the way, the debate on 16 November finished early because of how few people spoke.

Does my hon. Friend agree that “vote blue, go green” is the best way to deliver net zero? Does she recognise that nature-based solutions are vital to achieve net zero? Does this not just show again that the Green party is all talk and absolutely no action?

As I have said, it is incredibly important that we head towards our commitments. Between 1990 and 2021, we cut UK emissions by 48% while growing the economy. I agree with my right hon. Friend that if we trust this Government to deliver, we will ensure we are heading on the right path. The other thing to mention is that net zero is an engine for growth and the revitalisation of formerly industrialised areas of the UK. Cutting emissions is important not just for the climate, but for our economy.

The UN has warned that the world is on course for a catastrophic 2.8°C of warming, in part because promises made at COP26 and COP27 have not been fulfilled. We are running out of last chances. We know what we need to do and we know how to do it, but where is the sense of urgency? The Prime Minister was shamed into attending COP last year. I would have thought he would be ashamed to be there this year, after his climate climbdown last month derailed momentum at exactly the wrong time. The world needs climate leadership.

Does the Minister think it is acceptable for the Prime Minister to sabotage the UK’s history of climate leadership with his cynical backtracking on net zero? Labour will be going to COP with a message that the UK can be a climate leader again and that, in doing so, we will cut energy bills and boost energy independence at home, which this Government have conspicuously failed to do. Labour will put the UK back in a position of leadership and establish a clean power alliance. We will pledge to issue no new oil, gas or coal licences and set an example with our mission for clean power by 2030. What example does it set if the current UK Government ignore the science and global consensus on fossil fuels, especially when the Energy Secretary admits that her policy will not even cut bills?

Labour will also be working for multilateral development bank reform to help developing countries access capital, as well as championing the UK as the future green finance capital of the world, with mandatory 1.5°C-aligned transition plans for FTSE 100 companies and financial institutions. Can the Minister tell me what the Government will be doing to advance that agenda?

There is so much more that the UK can and must do to reduce emissions and deliver energy security, to cut energy bills and to back British industry. With Labour, Britain would lead the world at COP. Labour is ready to lead; is the Minister?

As I have mentioned, we do take this issue incredibly seriously. If I think about some of the facts, as the hon. Member rightly mentioned, at the G20 the Prime Minister announced $2 billion to the green climate fund. That is the biggest single funding commitment that the UK has made to help the world tackle climate change. Half of that contribution will go to adaptation. We are committed, and that is why we have a presence at COP28. The House will see that senior members of the UK Government are there, as well as King Charles.

This country has one of the strongest records in the world on reducing emissions, not least given our very successful COP26 summit in Glasgow. What progress is being made on delivering the historic commitment to tackling deforestation made by the leaders at that summit?

I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend has done on this subject. I will need to get back to her with the exact figures on deforestation, if I may. One of the things that the UK Government are doing at COP28 is making sure that we hit the five key areas of progress: finance, global stocktake, mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage—and, within that, nature.

The UK Government’s series of U-turns on net zero targets has put our ability to meet them at risk. The Scottish Government are committed to meeting our more ambitious targets, but Europe and the United States are leading the way as this place lags behind, in turn holding Scotland back. Can the Minister confirm whether the new Foreign Secretary, who famously decided to “cut the green crap”, will be attending COP26? That move cost UK households £2.5 billion in extra energy costs.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to ensuring we hit all those targets. As of September 2022, more than 130 countries, accounting for around 85% of global emissions and more than 90% of global GDP, were covered by net zero commitments. We are committed to making sure that we hit those targets, and that is demonstrated by our attendance at COP28 and the measures we are taking to ensure we meet the climate challenges.

The Government’s “Mobilising green investment” strategy, published in March, set out that we need $1 trillion a year in green finance by 2030. What are the Government’s ambitions at COP28 to agree funding anywhere close to that level? What more can we do to get our private sector and pension schemes to contribute to that?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will have those discussions over the two weeks of COP28. We are trying to ensure that we hit all the global targets, too. I am sure that those conversations will come up, and we can have a discussion on them later.

The Minister can talk the talk, but it is action that counts. Businesses across every sector, as well as experts in the field, have reacted with horror to this Government’s backsliding and roll-backs on climate action and net zero. In fact, Aviva’s chief executive, Amanda Blanc, said that the Government were putting our climate goals as a country “under threat” and therefore jobs, growth and investment at risk. Does the Minister recognise the damage that is doing both at home and to our global standing?

One of the things that this Government are committed to is ensuring that we have skills in place and that the economy is going in the right direction. We are proud of our record, and our commitment to making sure we get to net zero is demonstrated in all the things we have been doing. We are international leaders—world leaders—in our commitment to ensuring that we hit those targets.

I welcome that two of the 34 new landscape recovery schemes are in west Cornwall and on Scilly, and I credit the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Farm Cornwall, the Duchy, other organisations and in particular the landowners for their incredible work to achieve that. At previous climate change conferences, specifically the Paris summit, we agreed to fix our leaky homes. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can accelerate that effort, especially for low-income families?

I know what a champion my hon. Friend is for his constituents. I will of course meet him, although perhaps a meeting with the relevant Minister would be more appropriate. We are committed to making sure that we have that extra security. That is why we are making such an investment in working towards energy security, while at the same time working towards net zero.

The UK was a leader in offshore wind development but is now falling seriously behind. Costs to offshore wind developers have increased by as much as 40%. The recent offshore wind auction failure will have cost the UK 5 GW of new renewable energy, and that was entirely predictable. How will the Prime Minister be able to look in the eye the leaders of countries that are suffering most from the impact of climate change and say, “The UK does everything it can”?

First, we are world leaders on offshore energy. That is one of our commitments, but we do not just rest on our laurels and think about offshore wind; we are also looking at other ways to generate electricity, which is much needed, including fusion and small modular reactors. The hon. Lady suggests we are not taking into account where we should be going on energy, but we are world leaders and we are ensuring that we have an impact on our futures.

I am looking forward to going to COP as one of the members of the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee. Last week the Committee went to see the world’s first green hydrogen neighbourhood project in Fife in Scotland. Local people were given the choice to switch to innovative clean green hydrogen heating and nearly half of them have taken that choice. Does the Minister agree that one of the biggest challenges to achieving next zero is achieving that consumer change, and that this is why it is so important that we offer consumers innovation and choice rather than the top-down “tax and ban” approach that the Opposition so often promote?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is about education; ensuring that people are educated and thinking about how we use our future energy. However, it is also incumbent on us to ensure that we offer choices, which is why we are committed to offshore and to making sure that we are investing in science and technology and getting all of that technology available, thus making energy available in lots of different forms.

After the last COP, the Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, assured the House that there would be no funding whatsoever from British sources for fossil fuel developments anywhere in the world. Since then, the UK Government have announced their own fossil fuel developments with oil and gas extraction, so how on earth does the Minister expect to be taken seriously at COP when Britain itself is investing more in fossil fuels and then lecturing the rest of the world that they should not do so? Can she assure us that this COP is not just going to be an exercise in greenwash with a sideshow of oil dealing, and that it is going to be a serious attempt to deal with the serious, fundamental issues that this planet faces?

Yes, UK production is declining. When we think about oil and gas, it is important that we think about having a balanced approach and making sure that we keep our supply going as it should. One of the things we are committed to is making sure that, on balance, we also have other options available. It is important to remember that, from an economic point of view, the jobs that are created are really important, from an oil and gas point of view, and of course that will be invested in green energy as well, so it is a cyclical thing to make sure that we are investing in our future.

Having spent a year in the Energy Department, it has been an absolute pleasure to see how civil servants, businesses, the public and, indeed, Ministers are at the forefront of ensuring that the UK is the major economy that has decarbonised furthest and fastest in the world. We account for only 1% of emissions. We have the biggest offshore wind farm in the world, as well as the second biggest and the third biggest. We have more solar panels than France. We really are leading the way. So when we go to COP, we need to make sure that others see that there is an advantage in doing this and join us on that journey. What will the Minister’s message be at COP to make sure that the world joins us on this journey?

I thank my hon. Friend for making those points. He has worked closely with the Department and seen at first hand the work that we have been doing, and it is good to hear that reiterated in the House. One of the things that we are looking for is success at COP28, and success would be making sure that we are supporting those five measures but also progressing and making sure that we have a commitment to the world’s future and making a greener climate.

The Government are going into these global climate talks having announced new North sea oil and gas fields. If every country copied this Government’s approach of squeezing out every last drop of oil and gas, we would risk extreme global temperature rises of 3°C. Every respected climate body has warned of the dangers of this approach, so at the climate talks why should any other country listen to this Government when their policies are not compatible with the UK’s own climate commitments?

Of course we are committed to doing other things as well, which is what I am reiterating. We have a commitment to making sure that we learn from research and development, and that we are looking at offshore wind, but we also need to be realistic, which is why we are looking at oil and gas. It will have an impact on the economy and it will help towards a greener economy because of the investment that will be made through the oil and gas finance.

Climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity, and I will be looking forward to attending COP28 myself. I am pleased that it is taking place in the middle east, given the need to transition away from fossil fuels. We seem to forget our own history, because it was us—in Persia, in Mesopotamia and on the Arab peninsula—that got the middle east on to the road of oil and gas exploration. Does my hon. Friend agree that we are able to get our CO2 emissions down today because of the offshore wind farms in the English channel, and that those are the result of a lot of investment from the United Arab Emirates?

It is always a great pleasure to listen to my right hon. Friend, who reminds us of the history and of how we got to this point. However, we need to acknowledge all the good things that we are doing, and I reiterate that we are looking at ensuring sure that we have a secure energy future.

Is it not just a little bit embarrassing that as Ministers head to the Gulf for COP, the European Marine Energy Centre in my constituency is having to consult on downsizing and restructuring because the Minister’s colleagues in the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have been unable to provide the three-year funding stream that they had previously undertaken to provide? Will she speak to her colleagues in DLUHC to ensure that some certainty on that money can be given, and that the centre can continue its genuinely world-leading work on the development of marine renewable energy?

That is obviously not my Department, but I would be happy to take that away and facilitate a meeting, or indeed have a meeting myself.

New research by Ulster University finds that over 60% of homes in Northern Ireland will need to be retrofitted if we are to have a chance of meeting our net zero targets, and that at the current rate of retrofitting we have no chance of meeting our 2030 goals. Does the Minister believe that the support available to providers, such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and housing associations across the region, is adequate to allow them to tackle the climate breakdown and fuel poverty? Further, knowing the impact of climate change on the poorest countries in the world, will the Government finally make real the loss and damage fund to help those most affected to adapt and mitigate, and will she ensure that that fund is new money and not just a raid on existing pressed aid budgets?

With the hon. Lady’s permission, I would prefer to write to her, because parts of those questions are slightly outside my remit. However, I reiterate that one of the things we are determined to do is tackle fuel poverty. That is one of the reasons why we have a commitment to do this. Also, there is a lot of support that people can get, and I would encourage everybody to get what they are entitled to.

I have some great green innovators in my constituency, but it has been heartbreaking speaking to them over the last few months about the impact that the Government’s supposed reset on net zero is having on their businesses. They include new fuel cell producers, green aviation leaders, companies providing key supply chain parts to the car industry and renewable energy companies. Their businesses may be different, but the story is the same. The lack of action from the Government is making it harder for them to get investment, harder for them to create jobs and harder for them to bring growth to Mid Bedfordshire. My constituents ultimately saw through the Government’s shallow positioning on this issue, hearteningly for me, but it is unfortunate that this issue continues to hang over their prospects. How can we show leadership on this issue at COP28 at a time when the Government cannot even get out of the way of people looking to bring growth to my constituents?

This Government have demonstrated a commitment to investment in all these areas. Particularly from a science and technology point of view, I know that UK Trade and Investment has immense commitment and gives out support for this. But there are many things that we have been doing. We have not just been investing in R&D from a science point of view. What we are doing is investing in offshore wind, in alternative fuel and in all those things that will enable us to get to where we need to be.

In the UK, heating homes accounts for 14% of carbon emissions, and in England our homes produce more emissions than cars do. That is not only costing the environment in the future; it is also costing taxpayers now. A decade ago, the then Prime Minister Cameron’s “green crap” riddance resulted in uninsulated lofts and in cavity walls being left unfilled. Given that that decision is now adding billions in additional costs to taxpayers and making it harder to meet the 2030 decarbonisation target, can the Minister ask the Foreign Secretary whether he regrets it?

We are investing in making sure that homes are insulated and energy efficient. It is worth pointing out that between 1990 and 2021 the UK cut emissions by 48%, while growing the economy by more than 70%. I can, of course, pass on the hon. Gentleman’s message to the Foreign Secretary.